What does it mean to be a Christian in a post-Christendom era — a time when society no longer supports or promotes Christianity? How do Christians worship and do mission in this challenging new environment?
That’s the subject of “Worship and Mission After Christendom,” a new book from Herald Press by Alan and Eleanor Kreider, former church planters in England. In the interview below, they reflect on how Christians today can worship God and reach out to others in a world where religion is marginalized and many people are unfamiliar with the Christian story.
What does it mean to be living in Christendom?
Eleanor: In the Christendom world, governments support Christianity through public holidays like Christmas and Good Friday, Bibles are used in courts, or laws are enacted against shopping or selling of certain items on Sundays.
Alan: Christendom is a society in which Christians run things and pass laws that give advantages to Christians. The symbols of Christianity such as the cross are visible, and in schools Christian hymns and prayers are taught to all students. In Christendom you learn if you’re a Christian you get ahead in business and academics. Everyone assumes that they and other people know the Christian story, what the cross is, and who the infant in the manger is. In Christendom people assume that you ought to go to church, and that Christians are needed to offer prayers and to tell presidents, governors and generals what to do, even though they may not pay attention.
What does it mean to be post-Christendom?
Eleanor: In the post-Christendom world, many people have never heard the story of Jesus. They are unfamiliar with the Bible. They don’t know a world where you can’t shop on Sunday. Holidays celebrating religious events are empty of religious meaning.
Alan: In post-Christendom, Christians no longer run things, and Christianity isn’t favored. Belonging to a church confers no advantages. Laws no longer favor one religion, and in school teachers don’t require children to say prayers or learn hymns. Fewer people go to church, and those who do go to church go less often. Above all, people don’t know the great story of the Bible. People may have heard about Jesus, but they don’t know what he did or said. Some people are spiritual, but they get their inspiration from nature, music or the arts—not religion.
Some people regret this change to a post-Christian world. Is it a bad thing?
Eleanor: It is good, in that we have to think about the choices we make as Christians—we choose to follow Christ and live a certain way not because it’s easy, expected or approved by government or society. To be a Christian is to be a nonconformist, a risk-taker, someone who dreams different dreams about new possibilities.
Alan: Post-Christendom is a hard time because a lot of things Christians have assumed about our “Christian” culture have to change, and that’s uncomfortable. But it’s also a great time to be a Christian. We can decide to be Christians not because we’re born one, or because of parental or societal pressure, but because we chose to be one. In other words, post-Christendom may be challenging, but it is a lot less dull than Christendom!
What does this weakening of Christendom mean for the church?
Eleanor: Post-Christendom requires the church to see itself as more than a social club, or just another Sunday morning option. It forces us to define who we are and articulate its values, both to nurture believers and to draw others in.
Alan: Without the supports of a society in which being Christian is admired by everybody, and where fewer and fewer people know the Bible story, the church must be upfront in telling the story of God and alert in asking how God’s story is unfolding in our society. Christians need to constantly ask: How, in our new situation, are we to express the life of Jesus? And it means doing more to live and tell the story of God, because people don’t know it. Churches that aren’t asking these questions will die.
How does post-Christendom differ between the U.S. and Canada?
Alan: We are Americans, so we speak as outsiders to the Canadian situation, but it appears to us that the situation in Canada seems much closer to that in England and Europe than in the U.S.—it is much more secularized and post-Christendom than in the U.S. But even in the U.S. the situation varies. In some places, it is as post-Christendom as anything in England, but in other places it is marked by a fierce attempt to re-impose Christendom in ways the U.S. has never known throughout its history. 
Eleanor: A special characteristic of life in the U.S. is “civil religion,” a melding of God and nationalism that is distinctively American. But despite that, the tendencies toward post-Christendom are strong in the U.S. Like in other countries, church attendance is declining, and the highest worth, or worship, is being ascribed to economic security—not to God.
Why does the church need to re-think mission and worship in a post-Christendom world?
Eleanor: The post-Christendom era gives us a new chance to re-think how we have separated worship and mission, and find ways to bring them back together again. Doing so will draw us into God’s heart, and as we praise, sing, learn, witness, eat together, cry, forgive and encourage each other we will show God’s love for the world.
Alan: Post-Christendom tendencies offer us the challenge to rediscover the foundational practices of the Christian church, some of which are very old and need to be rediscovered, and some of which must be newly invented for our time. Both old and new will be ways of expressing the life and character of the God who has made peace through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What does mission look like in a post-Christendom world?
Eleanor: It looks like neighbors and strangers gazing in the windows of the Christian community, longing for the invitation to join the bounteous meal spread on the generous table. Christians look out those same windows, looking for ways to serve and listening for the heartbeat of the world.
Alan: In Christendom mission was what missionaries did; in post-Christendom mission is what God is doing. Christians need be alert to what God is doing and to enter in. Whatever that mission will be, it will look like Jesus Christ, who embodied the mission of God like nobody else.
What will worship look like in a post-Christendom world?
Alan: Worship after Christendom will have many expressions. Some will look traditional, and some will take place in pubs or auditoriums. Christians will rediscover the table; the Eucharist will become more important. Worship will both be at home in that culture, using its styles and expressions, but also raise questions that critique its false securities and values.
Eleanor: In worship we offer praise and ascribe worth to God. When we encounter God by retelling the story of God’s gracious acts and by attuning ourselves to God’s character and purpose, we are changed into the image of Christ, whom we worship and follow. And that can lead outsiders to ask why we have hope—why do we do the things we do? And then we will invite them to worship God with us, so they can find out.
After serving in England from 1974 to 2000, Alan and Eleanor Kreider have worked for Mennonite Mission Network as mission educators, speaking in colleges, churches, and conference and traveling to teach in many countries in East Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Middle East. Worship and Mission After Christendom is available from Herald Press at www.mpn.net/worshipandmission or by calling 1-800-245-7894 (U.S.), 1-800-631-6535 (Canada). Price: $19.99 USD/$22.99 CAD.